Brian Gotlund: Dinner Time Is Not Our Only Difference From Spain

Spain and the United States are two of the many countries considered part of the “west.”  Western countries are generally grouped together because many of their values are derived from the same sources and cultures.  On the other hand, Spain and the United States still have cultural differences along Hofstede’s dimensions, particularly in power distance, that can be explained through our company site visits.

There Is A Larger Power Distance In Spain

The dimension of power distance can be best explained by how hierarchical a society is.  In other words, how much power do the “less important people” have?  If they have a lot of power, they are part of a society with low power distance, while the opposite would be considered high power distance.

Spain, relative to the United States, has high power distance:  Its society is more hierarchical.  Our site visit that best exemplified this difference is our visit to Banco Santander.  The speaker, Carlos Gonzalez, gave us a 30 to 40-minute speech about Banco Santander’s efforts to help students pay for college.  The speech seemed fairly rehearsed and did not deviate much from the slides.  Additionally, there was hardly any audience participation.  I interpreted this as Carlos feeling he was the person in charge, and the audience, who could be considered less powerful, did not get a chance to have their voice heard.  Personally, I was confused about Banco Santander’s participation in student financing:  Do they issue student loans or was his presentation about its internal efforts to help educate employees? I never had the chance to ask the question because of my power distance from Carlos.

Cultural Dimensions Are Not Displayed In All People

This experience with Banco Santander was not displayed at every site visit.  It is important to note that Hofstede’s dimensions are composed of averages, and often times, people diverge from the norm.  In Culture Map, Erin Meyer stated, “When you look at the scales, keep in mind that both cultural differences and individual differences impact each international reaction.”  This means that many times individual differences trump cultural differences, and this was displayed in our visit to Tetuan Valley.

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Banco Santander is one of the leading banks from Spain and has operations spanning the globe.

In Tetuan Valley we heard from a speaker who is a leader in a company that helps educate startups.  He gave an extremely interactive speech about the process of making these startups successful.  There were many times when he wanted to listen to us in the audience:  He asked us about personal ideas for startups, gave plenty of time for questions, and even continued to present when someone from the company came into the room seeking his assistance.  He let the audience lead discussion rather than receive it.

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Tetuan Valley is a startup school that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses.

The speaker at this site is certainly more egalitarian than Mr. Gonzalez.  One reason for this could be age.  The speaker at Tetuan Valley was younger than Mr. Gonzalez, so maybe there is a generational difference in Spain, as there are many age differences in the United States.  At the end of the day, it is important to realize that none of these attributes are inherently right or wrong, but they are the way each speaker is accustomed to behaving.

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